What is the Cyprus problem?

What is the Cyprus problem?

For totally different reasons, the two peoples of Cyprus consider the status quo as unacceptable. To heal any condition, there is an absolute need to make a proper prognosis and an accurate diagnosis. What is the Cyprus problem? Before this question is adequately and accurately answered, a resolution will not be possible.

Is the Cyprus problem one of military intervention? Or is it a problem of occupation? Is it one of refugees and displaced people? Can it be a problem of lost properties? All these and various others are very important, but they are not the “root cause” of the conundrum which has been defying all resolution efforts since the 1968 start of the Cyprus talks process. They are some of the by-products of the problem. 

The Cyprus problem stems from the question of how to share power and sovereignty between the two politically equal communities of Cyprus: the Greek and Turkish Cypriot people. It was these two communities – with the help and guidance of Turkey, Greece and colonial power Britain – who decided to establish the Republic of Cyprus in 1960 as an effective federation.

The Turkish Cypriot people did not betray their treaty or constitutional commitments.  However, for Greek Cypriots, the 1960 republic was just a stepping stone in their quest to achieve “Enosis,” or union, with Greece. Archbishop Makarios III, the Greek Cypriot leader who became the president of the new state, was loyal to the 1950 “Enosis” plebiscite orchestrated by Makarios II and considered independence from Britain as a development that brought Greek Cypriots a step closer to achieving the aim of annexation to Greece.

Makarios III – who succeeded Makarios II as the archbishop of the Church of Cyprus – made his first and last visit to Ankara as the president of the effective federated Cyprus Republic between Nov. 22 and 26, 1962.

 There were two main items on Makarios’ agenda in Ankara: 1) A proposal for an amendment to be made in the Cypriot constitution and 2) a quest for Turkey’s help to overcome an acute water shortage on the island.

 He wanted to feel the pulse of Turkey, one of the three guarantor powers along with Greece and Britain, before taking any action. 

Ankara disapproved of Makarios’ constitutional amendment plans. What were the amendments sought by Makarios? Chiefly, Makarios wanted to have the Greek Cypriot president and the Turkish Cypriot vice president elected by the Greek Cypriot-dominated House of Representatives as a whole (not by the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot members separately); remove the veto powers of the Turkish Cypriots; reduce the Turkish Cypriot component in the civil and military arms of government; abolish separate community voting on fiscal, electoral and some other matters and put an end to separate local governance in mixed towns by unifying the municipalities.

That is, the aim was to eradicate the “effective federation” character of the Republic of Cyprus and transform it into a Greek state with a privileged Turkish minority. Turkish Cypriots opposed this, Ankara stood behind the Turkish Cypriots and on the night of Dec. 20-21, Greek Cypriots started implementing the so-called “Akritas” plan in the Tahtakale district of Nicosia with the intention of eradicating all Turkish Cypriots from the island in less than 24 hours or before Turkey could take any action to defend the Turkish Cypriots.

The Turkish Cypriots resisted. They continued their resistance until July 1974 when supporters of union with Greece staged a coup after becoming frustrated with the failure of the Makarios regime to overcome the “Turkish Cypriot obstacle,” igniting a civil war among Greek Cypriots. Hundreds of leftists and opponents of union with Greece were tortured, murdered in cold blood or even buried alive. Turkish intervention saved Turkish Cypriots from a very serious existential threat but it also put a full stop to the vicious slaughter campaign by enosis supporters of everyone that stood against their wild dream.

A settlement to the Cyprus problem is possible only if the correct diagnosis is made and the acute psychological disorder – which was demonstrated with the latest legislation to commemorate enosis in schools – in the Greek Cypriot community is healed. “Taksim” or “Division” of the island between Greece and Turkey, or northern Cyprus becoming a province of Turkey, is an equally problematic social disorder, but thank God it is not as acute as the enosis disorder on the Greek side.

The recent past of the island, anyhow, demonstrates that even if a common future under a federal roof might be desired by the political leaders of the two sides, as long as bad aspirations, hallucinations and utopias remain dormant, the best possible settlement might perhaps be the side-by-side coexistence of two Cypriot states under the EU umbrella. The best way out of this quagmire might be for one side to make territorial concessions and the other to share the territory and sovereignty of the island with the “other half.”

 Otherwise, the pain of the wounds inflicted by “the other” will continue to haunt all prospects for a resolution.